In recent months the U.S. Tennis Association has been talking up its tech game—for good reason. Here’s what the organization has learned from integrating the IT department deeper into the game.
In some ways, tennis and technology have been intertwined since the dawn of the computer age. (Pong, anyone?)
But, with computers increasingly becoming a key way that fans of professional tennis follow along with the game, it only made sense for the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) to double down before hitting a double fault.
And that’s why, more than a decade ago, USTA brought in Larry Bonfante, who serves as the association’s CIO. In an interview with The Enterprisers Project last month, Bonfante explained the ways in which the association has been incorporating technology into every part of the tennis experience. For example, the association has worked to make the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center—the Queens, New York, facility where the US Open is held—into a cutting-edge, high-tech venue. Thinking more locally, the association has also offered members an app so they can easily join in on tournaments.
“We realize that moving forward, like most membership organizations, that really deepening engagement is going to be critical for us,” Bonfante said in the interview. “And the best way to deepen that engagement is through a very robust digital platform.”
Getting USTA up to snuff, from a technological perspective, wasn’t easy. Speaking to Forbes in October, Bonfante recalled that, when he arrived at the association more than 13 years ago, “IT had no role in supporting the US Open.”
“Now every aspect of the event from ticket scanning, to concessions point of sales, to tournament scheduling, to the water fountains outside Arthur Ashe stadium, are run by technology,” he explained.
Despite the vastly greater focus on information technology, the organization has not added massive extra costs to its bottom line. In fact, USTA is spending 28 percent less on IT expenses than when Bonfante started—something, he told Forbes, that was due in part to smart sourcing and a lean management structure.
“We also focus 100 percent of our efforts and dollars on what truly matters for the organization and never invest in technology for technology’s sake!” Bonfante added.
The improved technology—which includes the increasing use of beacon devices to interact with smartphones at events and social elements to improve the second-screen experience for fans at home—is also driving revenue streams for the association, which include ad time on television.
“We’ve gotten much more sophisticated in the data we can share with our sponsors,” USTA Chief Revenue Officer Lewis Sherr told CIO in February. “We can give them nearly real-time data on the visibility generated, all over the world, from signs that surround the courts during the US Open. We can precisely equate that visibility to media value to allow our sponsors to calculate the return on investment.”
The growth of technology as a key differentiator for USTA comes at a crucial time of expansion for the association. Earlier this year it announced it was breaking ground on a new $60 million headquarters in Orlando, Florida.